UNRWA chief admits to terminating staff without probing Israeli claims
Philippe Lazzarini admits to employing a "reverse due process" approach in dismissing nine staff members allegedly involved in Operation Al-Aqsa Flood.
Philippe Lazzarini, the head of the UN agency for Palestinian refugees, admitted to employing a "reverse due process" approach in dismissing nine staff members accused by "Israel" of having a hand in Operation Al-Aqsa Flood on October 7.
Lazzarini acknowledged that the employees were terminated before investigating "Israel's" accusations against them and prior to the initiation of any investigation.
During a press conference in al-Quds, when asked about examining evidence against the employees, Lazzarini responded, “No, the investigation is going on now.”
He characterized the decision as “reverse due process," adding, “I could have suspended them, but I have fired them. And now I have an investigation, and if the investigation tells us that this was wrong, in that case at the UN we will take a decision on how to properly compensate [them].”
Lazzarini explained that he took an "exceptional and swift decision" to terminate the contracts of the staff members based on the highly sensitive nature of the accusations. He emphasized that the agency was under intense scrutiny and criticism, facing "fierce and ugly attacks" while actively delivering aid to almost 2 million Palestinians in the Gaza Strip.
“Indeed, I have terminated without due process because I felt at the time that not only the reputation but the ability of the entire agency to continue to operate and deliver critical humanitarian assistance was at stake if I did not take such a decision,” he said.
“My judgment, based on this going public, true or untrue, was I need to take the swiftest and boldest decision to show that as an agency we take this allegation seriously,” he added.
Israeli official dictates the names of dismissed UNRWA employees
An official from the Israeli Foreign Affairs Ministry informed Lazzarini of the accusations on January 18. Subsequently, nine out of the 12 UNRWA employees were dismissed, while two were killed during the Israeli aggression on Gaza
Lazzarini mentioned that the Israeli official provided him with the names of the accused staff members.
“I have seen a large dossier in the room that the person had, coming from their internal intelligence, and he was reading this and translating for me,” he said.
However, Lazzarini noted that "Israel" did not express any concerns about the individuals when their names were submitted for vetting last year, along with the entire UNRWA staff of 30,000 members. These staff members operate in regions such as Gaza, the West Bank, Jordan, Lebanon, and Syria, providing assistance to Palestinian refugees.
UNRWA operating in a hostile environment amid Gaza genocide
The United Nations Office of Internal Oversight Services is currently conducting an investigation into the accusations, with preliminary findings expected in the coming weeks. Additionally, an independent review of the agency's risk management processes is underway, led by former French Foreign Minister Catherine Colonna.
Lazzarini highlighted the "hostile" environment in which the agency operates, noting increased "restrictions" following the public disclosure of Israeli accusations. He mentioned that an Israeli bank froze UNRWA's account, and the agency received a warning about the potential cancellation of tax benefits.
Lazzarini also disclosed that a shipment of food aid from Turkey, including essential items like flour, chickpeas, rice, sugar, and cooking oil sufficient for 1.1 million people for a month, was obstructed at the Israeli-occupied port of "Ashdod". According to Lazzarini, the contractor cited instructions from Israeli authorities not to move the shipment or accept payment from a Palestinian bank.
Last week, Lazzarini, said during an interview for the Financial Times that "Israel" has not furnished evidence to support its accusations that approximately twelve UNRWA staff members were implicated in Operation Al-Aqsa Flood on October 7.
Lazzarini, addressing the accusations seriously, stated that he could not discuss the ongoing investigation by the UN’s Office of Internal Oversight Services.
The Financial Times, having reviewed the intelligence assessment, reported that "Israel" offered no proof for the accusations, including the claim of a staff member kidnapping a woman.
This comes amid a movement to stigmatize the agency's credibility after "Israel" accused 12 of its members of being affiliated with the October 7 operation conducted by the Palestinian Resistance. As a result, the UK, the US, and 14 other countries have opted to defund the organization, primarily led by the United States, prior to any investigation and without any proof provided.
On this note, Philippe Lazzarini warned that this decision could compel UNRWA to cease crucial assistance and operations in the Gaza Strip by the conclusion of February.
'Gaza is a massive human rights crisis and a humanitarian disaster'
The United Nations has lately warned that “Gaza is a massive human rights crisis and a humanitarian disaster."
Out of a population of 2.3 million, a staggering 1.9 million people have been displaced, creating an environment where there is no haven, it added.
Relentless bombardments by the IOF persist in both the north and the south, particularly in Khan Younis. Compounding the crisis is a severe shortage of essential supplies such as food, water, medicines, tents, and other necessities amid the cold weather.
The existing shelters are overcrowded, and sanitary conditions are appalling, the report added. In areas like Rafah and Khan Younis, sewage is flowing uncontrollably, creating a potential breeding ground for epidemics—"a ticking time bomb" for a health catastrophe, as per the UN.